Thursday, 26 November 2009

'The Look Out' - Kingston Road, South Wimbledon

There's a sadly derelict  (or at least semi-decrepit) building in South Wimbledon that looks as though it has an interesting story to tell. The trouble is I'm having some problems pinpointing exactly what that story might be!

The building in question sits on the corner of Kingston Road and Wilton Crescent in South Wimbledon and at first glance looks like a fairly impressive, but fairly typical Victorian house

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As you can see from the Google view, the house is boarded up and doesn't seem to have had anyone involved with it for some time

It's only when you go round the side of the building into Wilton Crescent that you can see what it was that caught my eye - two rather large, gleaming white plaques on the chimney stack. They were so bright that at first I thought they might have been added at a later date or that they might have been infills of old windows, but of course being built into the chimney would make the chances of them being anything else than what they are remote indeed.

 It was the size and the  - let's face it - slightly ostentatious look of these plaques that made me think that whoever built or commissioned such a building must have had a bit swagger and self-confidence about them and might just have a bit of a tale to tell. What was also apparent from the side view was that in a heavily residential area, this building had somehow acquired what looked like a small factory unit tagged on at the rear, best seen from the Google satellite view of the area. When had that been built and for what reason?

All very intriguing then and definitely worth  a bit of a scratch around on the internet to see if anything interesting came up.

As a start, the date on the top plaque was quite interesting as it shows the building was constructed about ten or more years before the building boom really took off in this particular area. Due to its position this was not really surprising as it was built facing  the main road  to Kingston whereas much of the later development took place in the newly laid out streets behind the building

  The larger sign beneath the date plaque is even more interesting as it depicts the name of the building in the form of a three -part scroll in front of a flowering plant.

The building was evidently called The Look Out but I have to say finding any evidence that it was ever actually referred to or called by the name is proving a little difficult. I was also wondering if there was any particular reason why it should be connected with a flowering plant and an unusual two-handled, three legged flower pot - other than for decorative purposes?

Probably not but I couldn't help but be reminded of the three-legged pot famously connected with ironmongers, as depicted in this particular coal hole cover depicting the dog and the three-legged pot

A casual enquiry of a local historian didn't throw up any suggestion as to any great history or famous owners but there is a strong link with Christian organizations and charities up until almost the present day, and the thought did cross my mind as to whether The Look Out might have a similar origin to the Jehovah's Witness magazine The Watchtower . 

On reflection I don't believe this to be the case as it's more likely to be down to the design of the building itself, as it has large flat balconies both to the front and the rear. These balconies are on the roof and at the time of construction would have had commanding views over the surrounding fields

You can see the balustrades on the front view and these were duplicated to the rear of the roof. Lots of room up there for a barbecue or a small tea party!

I haven't as yet found out much about the buildings early years but it does seem to have been owned by an organization called the St Christopher's Fellowship for some considerable time, possibly going back to the Second World War. The Fellowship was originally a Victorian charity and the the work of three friends who sought to improve the lot of young working boys. Their website has a nice potted history and mentions that one of the three founders, Arthur Kinnaird, was an early footballing 'superstar'! A quick look on Google shows that he was a little more than that and amongst many other fascinating remarks I particularly enjoyed the fact that he celebrated his fifth Cup Final victory by standing on his head in front of the pavilion as well as his enthusiasm for a bit of 'manly' shin-hacking!

Kinnaird played for both the Wanderers - a highly influential early team based in Battersea Park - and the Old Etonians but what the potted history misses was the fact that one of the other founders Quintin Hogg - was not only a merchant, philanthropist and grandparent of our own Lord Hailsham, but was also a player for the Wanderers himself and actually bettered Kinnaird in representing Scotland twice to Kinnaird's single appearance (although I'm sure the fact he was one of those responsible for organizing the first ever match had no bearing on the matter!) The third member of the triumverate, Thomas Pelham, doesn't seem to have played himself but was certainly influential in establishing youth clubs for boys and was a university friend of the others.
Lord Kinnaird ready for a game. Watch out shins!

As an aside, Kinnaird and Hogg are also discussed in a fascinate book on the Victorian origins of football called Those Feet - A Sensual History of English Football by David Winner who notes how they were both heavily involved in the social purity movement including being vice-president of the National Vigilance Association, a fairly extreme and aggressive group involved in '...campaigns and prosecutions against 'indecency' and 'immorality' wherever they imagined it... which was almost everywhere'. All three of these gentlemen seem to be perfect examples of 'muscular Christians' who advocated sport - and lots of it - as a means of keeping energies and attentions away from less 'wasteful' pursuits.

As far as I am aware the premises in Kingston Road might still be owned by the Fellowship as up until a few years ago the building was being used as self-contained hostel accomodation for young men. However it was also for many years the headquarters of the Trinitarian Bible Society as well as providing office space for a number of other organizations. DECO Consulting, SCF Services
      and the St Pancreas Foundation amongst others all seem to have operated from the address, although the name of the building seems to vary - Nelson House and St Christopher House being two favourites and The Look Out never being used!

The factory building out the back is the most intriguing though. There were rumours that the premises had suffered at the hands of German bombers and I suppose it could be that they inadvertently cleared some space at the rear of the building. What is certain though is that the space was occupied by another Victorian Christian organization The Trinitarian Bible Society whose 'primary function is to translate and disseminate worldwide Bibles in languages other than English' . Their aims would have matched perfectly with those of the St Christopher Fellowship and for many years they used The Look Out as a warehouse for the despatch of bibles and other religious tracts around the world. Whether it was their decision to leave The Look Out and move into larger premises in an old telephone exchange in Morden that finally led to the abandonment of the building or whether there were other factors at work I'm not sure, but it's a pity that what must once have been an imposing building and a beacon of hope to many individuals on hard times should find itself in such a poor state of repair and with a seemingly bleak future.

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Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Londonist Blogger Interviews

There's an interesting on-line listings and news site called The Londonist that (if I'm being honest) I wasn't aware of until they sent me an email asking whether I'd be happy to answer a few questions. Normally of course if anyone tries to ask me questions on the street I'd be trying to hide behind someone else and slip past on their blind side but as this was all done at a safe distance it seemed quite an interesting thing to do. As it turned out it was all fairly painless

It was published the other week and whilst I was having a look I noticed a whole clutch of other interviews with other bloggers who also write about London. Very interesting they were too and many of them were by individuals whose bloggs cover similar areas to Faded London. In fact a significant number of them write bloggs that I've listed as links from this site and it occurred to me that they might be of interest to others.   

So, for your ease and interest I did a quick search on their site to produce a convenient list of all the blogger interviews. Those with similar interests to Faded London include Sam Roberts talking about his ongoing project at Ghost Signs, myself trying desperately to think of something interesting to say about the idle stroll that is Faded London and Chris Partridge discussing the joy of building ornamentation on Ornamental Passions . My personal favourite for a good read is Rob's Another Nickel in the Machine , a blog that looks for inspiration to the gossip pages of the past.  Caroline's Miscellany is an lucky dip of interesting nuggets and the tapestry of images that make up Jane's London is always worth more than just a glance.

I fully expect others to appear over the coming months so it might be worth popping by now and then and seeing what's new.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Merton Hall Road : The House Tile Mecca of South Wimbledon

You know how it is when you're walking along on a bright autumnal day and something catches your eye - in this instance an aesthetically pleasing bit of tilework. If you see one then it's a moment of interest but to see a few in one place, well that's worth getting your camera out for.

That's pretty much what happened to me as I was strolling down a South Wimbledon street the other week. I have to confess to having a soft spot for a bit of tile work, whether it be the interior of an old butcher shop, the pillar between to adjoining shops or a (not so) humble domestic doorway. Every now and then you might also come across a few adorning the outside of a house as well, and to my mind can really catch the eye and lift the spirit. If you're susceptible to that sort of thing of course...
...otherwise you might find it a bit of a bore and an unnecessary distraction and possibly decide to paint over it!

The road in question was Merton Hall Road and at the time I saw these I wasn't aware that Merton Council had designated it with its own conservation area Actually the design guide had some useful information in it such as details of the architect and builders
The development of Merton Hall Road on the Merton Hall Estate began in 1884 when George Palmer and his architect Francis James Smith together with Charles T. Tuftin and his surveyor Percy H. Clarke commenced building. These were largely responsible for introducing the lively variety of the Queen Anne revival detail which gives the street its character.
There seems to have been a George Palmer of 9 Westbourne Terrace, Garratt Lane, Wandsworth ( a few miles away) who had a whole hat-ful of leases and mortgages in the area at that time so it's tempting to think he was a bit of a local entrepreneur riding the local housing boom. Whoever he was though you can't fault his attention to detail.

I didn't get to picture every set of tiles down the road - some were duplicated and some were obscured - but I think there's a pretty representational set here.

Quite a subdued one to start with. Not a design that shouts at you but quite pleasant all the same.
No, these two, above and below, are not quite the same although if it wasn't for the daisies you'd have to look twice to confirm it. I've no idea who produced the tiles of if they were fairly common 'off the shelf' designs. It would be interesting if anyone recognised them though.
The one below certainly is a duplicate of the one above though. I don't think I saw more than a couple of designs repeated so it certainly didn't feel like there were just job lots of tiles being used. I wonder if the brick border is brown on the one above as well?
Roughly 125 years old and they've still retained their lustre. Not many obvious cracks caused by frost or ice either
I was wondering if there's an unstated sense of tile-snobbery amongst the owners. Do residents secretly covert their neighbours tiles? And why were some painted over? Most inexplicable...
(Below) The black border gives this one a bit of an edge though. It works OK, although I think I'd prefer a white border but the design guide definitely comes out against any unnecessary paining of brick features at all. So there...
(Above) Blues, black, browns and greys - bit of a mish-mash but still colourful enough
(Above) A bit of detail from the set below, which I think looks a bit like a Navajo woven blanket on the front of the house. Not that I've ever seen a Navajo blanket but it's what I'd imagine it to look like
I think this has to be my favourite of the designs though - even if only of the interesting colours. It also seems to have a fair bit of Moorish influence in its design. Very delicate all round and a nice one to finish on.

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Weston Green Sundial...and other bits

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The village sign built to commemorate the Queens Golden Jubilee

Weston that's what it's called. Now at last I can stop describing it as "...the nice group of old buildings near the 'Scilly Isles' roundabouts on the straight road toward Hampton Court Bridge. You know, the green bit with the nice hidden pub and the house with the sundial on it...?"

Just about London too for the sake of this blog. Apparently it's crept into Surrey but the fact that it's within the M25, has the afformentioned striking sundial tantalisingly visible from the road and that I seem to drive past it at regular intervals means it just about qualifies.

It's no suprise that the locals have gone down the village-sign route as the ancient layout and pattern of the old village is pretty obvious even to a casual visitor like myself. The old village green, pond (nowdays more a small crater with a marsh at the bottom) the pub, church and fine houses are all still there and the large amount of traffic seems more intent on rushing by than hanging around. Well worth a quick visit on a Sunday afternoon then...
This is the splendid sundial that had first grabbed my attention whilst hurrying toward a traffic-jam in Hampton Court. The latin motto 'Horas non numero nisi serenas' translates as
I count only the bright hours and is still apparently a big favourite for those commissioning their own more modern sundials, along with Time flies and other traditional time-related mottoes.
The date seems to be 1828 and it's quite an ornate item for what is not a particularly large or ostentatious building. Rather a stern looking sun as well but on the whole it puts other sundials in the shade (boom, boom!)
This low-level weather vane was also nearby. I doubt that it's very old and it seems to be peeling in several places but I was intrigued by the subject matter of a lion and three people. I'm sure it must be an allusion but I've no idea what to.
On the same row of houses, next door to the sundial cottage in fact, here's a very handsome Georgian mansion. It's currently undergoing a bit of renovation and I was intrigued to spot what looked like an insurance fire-plate above the door. In the 18th and 19th centuries the lack of a national fire brigade meant that your fire-cover was exactly that - a small private fire-brigade would come and put out your burning house but only if you were one of their customers! Hence the need to ensure the fire-marks were in a prominant position...A slightly closer view shows a plate depicting what seems to be a temple surmounted by a crown. Some scouting around on the internet led to the discovery of a fascinating booklet on the subject called Fire Insurance Wall Plaques by Rowland G. M. Baker. It was published in 1970 and is available in full online and well worth a quick look. What it does have are some excellent line drawings of fire-plates and from that it's quite possible to identify the plaque as being from the Royal Exchange - and in fact the 'temple' depicted was actually the Royal Exchange itself

The 'Weekly Journal' of 12th December 1719 records that "On Tuesday the Society of Gentlemen Subscribers of the new project for insurance of Ships and Merchandise waited upon the King with a petition for the Grant of a Charter to carry on their new undertaking, and we hear that they were graciously received and their Petition referr'd to the Privy Council". Their efforts were successful and they granted a royal charter in 1720. The company was first known as Onslow's Insurance from Lord Onslow its first governor. It began by dealing with marine insurance only. In 1721 a supplementary charter was obtained by the name of "The Royal Exchange Assurance of Houses and Goods from Loss by Fire", from the fact that their offices were sited in the Royal Exchange. The company also used a representation of the Royal Exchange building as the emblem on their fire mark. This was the old Royal Exchange build in 1669 after the Great Fire, and which was itself ravaged by fire in 1838. That fire unfortunately destroyed all the company's old records .

What can I say. I'm a sucker for old door-bell pulls... I assume this one had a thin wire cable going to one of those merry ' bell on a spring' affairs.

Getting away from the heart of Weston Green a short walk over the common takes you Esher Railway Station, or more accuratly to the nearby railway bridge. There were an intriguing couple of bricked up doors here, between the two lines. One had a tempting glass arch still intact which apparently used to service the station platforms. Presumably these are now too dangerous and have long since been blocked up.

A closer look shows a tempting array of higgledy-piggldy stair, undergrowth and the refuse of the ages. I wonder if it can still be accessed from the station above?

Out in the open air again I spotted an interesting looking badge on the side of the bridge. A bit too far away for me but a close-up on the camera provided all the required detail.

Joseph Westwood & Co Engineers & Contractors London 1888

There are a multitude of references to this company, or at least to Joseph Westwood. He seems to have been an employee at a Thames Iron Shipyard and stepped in to stop it going bust with the loss of 3,000 jobs, and followed that up by setting up his own foundry and specialising himself in ships and railway bridges. By all accounts his company - or an offshoot of it - were still trading at least up to the 1970's and undertook a vast range of engineering tasks and roles. A nice item to finish on!